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Personality and

Leadership
Derailment
Exploring how the personality
of an individual plays a key
role in determining someones
likelihood of derailment

White paper

About Talent Q
We design and deliver innovative online psychometric assessments,
training and consultancy, to help organisations make better, more informed
decisions about their people.

The heart of what we do


Our desire to simplify how organisations use and apply assessment is at the heart
of everything we do. This influences the way in which we design and develop our
assessments, training and consultancy services. It also affects how we choose to
price our services and how we work with our clients.
We have an elegantly simple portfolio of assessments which deliver valuable
insight into the skills and behaviours, abilities and motivation of people at work. All
our psychometric assessments are constructed with a commitment to scientific
rigour, practicality and flexibility.
We have a wide range of training programmes aimed at equipping HR
professionals with the necessary skills to use and implement objective assessment
effectively in the workplace.
Our consultancy services provide practical, expert and flexible talent
management solutions. Our expertise lies in transforming psychological theory into
an applied, practical business context.

The Talent Q way


We believe we have a refreshingly different approach to working with clients
open, committed and passionate and whilst we have a strong technical and
psychometric pedigree, were pragmatic and practical in our solutions.

Our global footprint


We work with national and international organisations across all sectors. With
a network of partners in over 50 countries and with assessments in over 40
languages, were able to deliver assessment, training and consultancy solutions to
clients across the world.

Talent Q offer a winning combination of


great products, credibility, expertise, a
partnership ethos and value for money.
Learning and Organisation Development Manager
London Ambulance Service

Contents
1. Introduction

Growth focus

Operational focus

Professional focus

2. Personality and derailment

3. The eight key leadership derailment factors

4. How to address the risk of derailment

Self-awareness4
Assess for derailment factors

Focus on reducing business risk

Coaching and development

5. Pen pictures of derailment in action

The hyper-sensitive leader

The over-confident leader

The micro-managing leader

6. Conclusion

1. Introduction
Leadership derailment has been a much discussed issue in recent years, particularly given its
negative role in limiting the extent to which individuals may makethe most of their talents in
leadership roles.
Recent events within the context of the economic downturn have revealed numerous examples of this. For
instance, overly confident leaders in the banking and automotive industries, who were reported to have
dismissed dissenting voices and ignored risk, may have done well in the good times but fell hard and fast when
the economy began to nosedive.
Many of the problems these organisations are now facing can in part be traced back to poor decision-making
by their leadership teams, characterised by a culture of risk-taking and an emphasis on short-term gains.
Derailment tends to occur when leaders progress up the ladder capitalising on their key strengths, but fail to
develop more widely, ultimately being unable to deliver when confronted by circumstances that require a broader
range of capabilities.
Three common routes through which leaders often progress but ultimately derail are outlined below:

Growth focus
Here, leaders may thrive on risk and be very decisive, succeeding in sales-led environments where the wider
market is expanding by taking opportunities quickly. However, they may pay inadequate attention to risk, thus
failing to plan for contingencies and creating significant risk of their confidence exceeding their ability to deliver.

Operational focus
In this instance, leaders may thrive on working within a structured, operational environment, working within tight
timelines and succeeded using these skills. On progressing, they may not develop strong strategy development
capabilities and may struggle to succeed without a fixed paradigm or way of doing things.

Professional focus
These leaders may have progressed on the basis of their professional or technical specialism without having
developed broader leadership and management skills. In a more senior role, they may find themselves unready
to deliver the non-specialist aspects, leading to derailment.
Derailment characteristics are exhibited when an individual is put under considerable pressure, for instance
when they are failing to deliver because they are promoted into a role for which they are not ready or have the
requisite breadth of capabilities. When under pressure, what may normally be sources of strength can become
exaggerated as people revert to type, relying on their preferred ways of doing things rather than stepping
outside their existing comfort zones.
For these reasons, understanding the root causes of derailment and helping leaders avoid them is a key element
of realising potential from the talent in any organisation. As the recent economic crisis has shown in a number
of organisations, failing to do so can have disastrous consequences when the personalities of individual leaders
override business strategy.

2. Personality and derailment


The personality of an individual plays a key role in this process from a psychological
perspective, with increased risk of extreme behaviours occurring when under acute or
continued pressure.
Much of the early research in this area relates to the clinical understanding of personality disorders, such as
antisocial personality within which individuals may show scant regard for the feelings of others, or narcissistic
personality whereby an individuals self-belief and self-esteem reaches a dangerous point where their appraisal
of situations becomes highly unrealistic and negatively impacts others around them.
Whilst these extremes are relatively uncommon in the workplace, behaviours of a similar but often less
exaggerated nature are in fact more frequent amongst individuals who are under significant pressure and finding
it difficult to cope or perform in a work context. This forms the basis of the Talent Q model linking personality to
derailment, developed through extensive literature research, data collection and statistical analyses.
The Talent Q model defines eight personality characteristics which could lead to derailment.

3. The eight key leadership derailment factors


Factor

Scale description

Hyper-sensitivity

These individuals may have shrewd judgement and subtle perceptions but this comes with a risk
of emotional fragility and anxiety and a tendency to regard others as hostile to them.

Isolation

Such leaders can cope and make decisions on their own; but may be less comfortable in team
situations, where they appear to be poor communicators, with a tendency to isolate themselves.

Eccentricity

These leaders are viewed as unconventional and able to come up with novel ideas; but these may be
unworkable and they may be poor listeners and unreliable in their judgement.

Iconoclasm

These individuals are probably tough-minded and able to break with conventionality; but they may be
insensitive to others, even anti-social and unethical in their behaviour.

Exhibitionism

These are likely to be positive, charismatic and socially condent leaders but this may come with
attention seeking behaviour, where they are prone to exaggeration and less capable in unfavourable
conditions.

Over-condence

These individuals are typically self-condent and see themselves as leaders but they often fail to listen
or understand their own limitations, eventually becoming despotic.

Over-dependence

People usually view these individuals as agreeable and easy to work with, as good followers; but they
may also be risk-adverse, lacking in inuence and weak when faced with high demands.

Micromanagement

These leaders tend to be good administrators, methodical and attentive to detail; but they may be
inexible and rule-following and tend to try to manage others too closely.

It is important to remember that these characteristics are only likely to occur when the individual in question is
experiencing considerable stress, and may be an extension of what may otherwise have been the source of their
success to date.
Indeed, not having a small amount of each tendency can potentially act as a career limiter. For example,
someone who is lacking in condence is likely to be restricted in their potential to progress. A healthy balance
between the two extremes is most desirable.
Talent Q research in this area draws on assessment data from over 14,000 individuals and shows that
derailment factors tend to vary across business functions in fairly predictable ways.
For instance, people working in sales tend to show higher risk of derailment due to Exhibitionism and Overcondence compared to other functions, whilst for managers in nance roles, derailment through micromanagement represents the greatest risk.
In a sense, this is unsurprising as, to be considered effective; role-holders in these functions are required to
exhibit an element of these derailing behaviours (i.e. condence in salespeople, attention to detail in nance
professionals).

4. How to address the risk of derailment


So what can be done to address derailment factors and manage the risks for individuals and
organisations?

Self-awareness
Put simply, forewarned is forearmed. For the individual, self-awareness is key. For people in leadership roles,
helping them develop an understanding of aspects of their personality which could lead to derailment and then
proactively managing these is an important part of ensuring stable high performance and career progression.

Assess for derailment factors


When it comes to assessment for senior roles and identifying individuals with high potential, there is a strong
rationale for including personality assessment as a way of identifying aspects of their personality, which under
certain conditions may derail them.

Focus on reducing business risk


From an organisational perspective, ensuring that potential derailment factors are a key aspect of leadership
development is likely to have clear benefits in terms of managing and reducing risk to the business. This can
help avoid the situations outlined earlier, where clear strengths were acknowledged at the expense of any
behavioural areas for concern.

Coaching and development


In a developmental context, addressing potential derailment factors is not simply a case of sending someone
on a training course to learn some useful skills (although this has its place). Rather, considerable personal
development and experiential learning is likely to be required for someone to learn to accept, better understand
and finally manage their derailment factors. With this in mind, coaching leaders to tackle their derailment factors
is likely to result in improvements over a period of time.

In response to the organisational risk posed by derailment, Talent Q has developed a new report from the
Dimensions personality questionnaire. The Derailment Report provides powerful insight into an individuals
personality and how this may, under certain conditions lead to derailment. It can be used within selection and
assessment contexts as well as for individual development and coaching.
The report can support a risk management strategy for senior appointments, in that it highlights strengths
but acknowledges areas for development enabling a structured development strategy is put in place before
derailing behaviour may begin to manifest itself.
As Talent Qs research has demonstrated a relationship between functional roles and derailment risks, this
information can be used by organisations to actively seek out such behaviour in a targeted way and implement
tailored development programmes.

5. Pen pictures of derailment in action


So what does derailment look like? The following pen pictures of leaders with strong
derailing personality characteristics may be familiar to you though they are not intended to
represent any particular individuals, you may recognise past or present colleagues in these
descriptions.

The hyper-sensitive leader


Hyper-sensitive people feel things very intensely, noticing things that others may miss or gloss over.
They are capable of sensing fear and danger, and they are aware of other peoples criticisms of them. They
avoid superficiality, and can be quite shrewd in their judgements about other people. Hyper-sensitive people
are often prepared to take the blame when things go wrong, and they take adequate time before jumping onto
a new fashion or adapting to a new challenge. They may be at their best in politicallycharged situations which
require a lot of subtle perception.
Overly hyper-sensitive individuals may exhibit emotional fragility, even a tendency to feel victimised or
persecuted. Individuals like this are easily frustrated and irritated and lack the resilience to cope with difficult
problems.
They are inclined to view others intentions as hostile and to misinterpret innocent remarks. They question the
loyalty of others, and may be preoccupied with hidden agendas and politics. They are typically anxious, fearful
and over-sensitive to criticism. In a crisis, they may fail to respond appropriately.

The over-confident leader


Over-confident leaders have all the benefits from being self-confident.
There is no doubt that success depends to some extent on self-belief, intellectually, socially and emotionally.
However, the danger is that they will genuinely believe that they are good at solving problems, able to deal with
complexity and create broad, innovative visions and this is regardless of their real level of ability
They will see themselves as leaders, influencers and good negotiators. They will have a high degree of drive,
competitiveness and ethics. These people possess many of the key competencies required of a manager at any
level and in any function.
Self-confidence is obviously a strength, but arrogance or over-confidence is a clear weakness. The typically
over-confident person lacks a sense of their own limitations, and they can easily over-reach themselves. In
believing so strongly in their own powers of intellect they may fail to listen to others, and may develop grandiose
and unworkable visions, which do not adequately deal with the underlying complexity of the problems involved.

By needing to be the leaders in any situation, they may develop despotic tendencies and make many enemies.
And their need to win and eclipse others will sometimes catch up with them. Their belief in their own ethical
code may also become an illusion, if it does not get them the success they crave. Over-confidence can in the
end have disastrous consequences: pride goes before a fall, and history confirms this for us time and time
again.

The micro-managing leader


Micro-managers are highly methodical and structured operators, who pay a lot of attention to detail.
They plan every aspect of their lives, both in the short and the long term; and never trust spontaneity or leave
things to sort themselves out. Micro-managers always prepare themselves thoroughly and pay full attention
to statistical and technical data. They are very conscientious, and persist with all tasks until they are fully
completed. They tend to be excellent administrators and bureaucrats.
However, someone who overly micro-manages may rely too heavily on structure, rules and detail. They may be
inflexible and have difficulty in adapting their behaviour to new circumstances and challenges. Their emphasis
on method and rule-following may limit their competence in dealing with unstructured situations, or decisions
for which inadequate data is available. Their main problem is likely to be that many other people do not thrive on
being micro-managed. As one progresses to higher levels of management, the style of being a micro-manager
tends to become less successful.

6. Conclusion
Derailment represents a significant development challenge for individuals as well as being a key concern for
organisations wishing to manage the risk of leadership failure. Assessment of personality traits can highlight
derailment factors and potential career limitation.
This information can be used when selecting new leaders to mitigate against the derailment potential associated
with their personality. It can be used as part of a structured development programme for managers whose
profiles exhibit the potential for derailment.
In this regard, putting in place the necessary assessment and developmental support is critical to ensure leaders
are aware of their own potential risks and are able to grow with the challenges they face and manage these.
A sample Derailment Report is available by emailing Talent Q at info@talentq.co.uk or visiting
www.talentqgroup.com/assessments/dimensions/

06WP01022010

Talent Q Ltd 2010